Father Miguel raised his head from the edge of his bed. He had kneeled beside it for his early morning prayers. “Did I doze off again?” he wondered. The room was still dim as the pale pre-dawn light began to creep in through the one small window of his sleeping chamber.
He stood and stretched. It was a festival day and activities would start early this morning.
“Ba-Boom!” came the low rumbling blast. Father Miguel felt it as much as he heard it. Before he could reach for his robes, “ba-boom,” it shook the room again.
“That’s not thunder,” Miguel spoke to himself as he dressed quickly. “That’s a canon.”
He rushed outside just as the third concussive blast roared through air. He turned in the direction of the sound. It was coming from the harbor, not the fort.
Miguel ran for the doors of the church. People would come for safety and answers.
“Land ho,” cried the man on watch in the crow’s nest.
Grace could hear the activity outside the cabin as the watch changed and the crew made ready to land just out of sight of Guayaquil.
“Ba-boom!” The explosion shattered the morning.
“What the hell…” Grace jumped out of bed and threw open the cabin door.
“Ba-boom!” Canons roared not far from their position.
“Report!” she yelled at the crew in general.
“It’s the Columbe, ma’am,” called the man still in the nest.
“She’s firing on the town!”
“Bloody hell. Hawkins! Where are you?”
Hawkins was already leaping down the stairs from the quarter deck above.
“Right here, Captain,” he replied.
“Were there any signals last night?”
“No, Captain, not a thing. We were heading to the original rendezvous. I have ordered the helm to change course. I assumed you would like to speak with Caseau as soon as possible.”
“Damned right I want to speak to him.” She turned again to the crew at large. “All hands to battle stations! Signal the course change to the Leon and the “boat”.”
[A little note for readers. One of the captured ships does not have a name yet – Would anyone like to make a suggestion? You will see a few more instances where there is a place holder for this valuable member of the pirate flotilla.]
Grace turned on her heels and stalked back into the cabin. The confrontation with Caseau would require full battle dress.
“Ba-boom!” That sounded like it could have been the prize ship sailing with the Columbe.
Bartolo stepped in after knocking. “Captain, the gunners want to know if they should run out the guns as well.”
“Absolutely, under no circumstances are any more guns to fire on that town!” Grace barked as she pulled on her boots and began strapping her cutlass to her waist. In moments like this it was certainly an advantage to have shorter hair. She put her wide brimmed hat on and was ready to step back outside.
The full morning light washed the deck and aided the crew in their frenzy to come along side the two ships blockading the town.
As always, Mama Guzman was several steps ahead of Father Miguel. As he made it to the doors of the church, she was already taking charge of the people gathered, trying her best to keep them calm.
“Ba-boom!” The canons from the ships in the harbor roared again.
Father Miguel opened the doors and the crowd flowed inside. Mama Guzman rushed ahead to open windows and allow more light into the sanctuary.
Everyone started asking questions all at once. “What’s happening? What should we do?”
Father Miguel stepped into the pulpit and addressed his anxious flock. “Everyone, please, take a seat. At the moment I have just as many questions as you and few answers to satisfy those questions.” He spotted young Javier Espinosa in the growing crowd. “Javier, up to the bell tower and tell us what you can see,” he ordered.
The boy jumped up and was racing up the stairs in a heartbeat.
Turning back to those assembled, Father Miguel continued. “At the moment it seems that they are firing on the harbor itself. For now we are safe here.”
“Ba-ba-boom!” The deep rumbling report of the great guns of the fort finally sounded in answer.
Within a moment, they could hear Javier clattering back down the bellfrie stairs. “Two ships in the harbor.” The boy was panting from the race up and down the stairs. “A corvett flying French flags and a smaller ???. There is also a galley, a barque, and some other boat that are on a course to join them. They aren’t flying any flags at the moment.”
The crowd gasped as one and murmurs of “pirates” could be heard rippling across the room.
Señor Enrique Perez chose that moment to come striding down the aisle toward the altar. “The boy speaks the truth.” He looked up at father Miguel. “Pardon, please, Padre. May I speak?”
“Si, Señor Perez, speak.”
“I had been on my way down to the warehouses when the first shot was fired. There can be no doubt that they are pirates intent on raiding this town. Maybe they are French, maybe English, maybe of no country at all.
I have come to call members of the council to return with me to the governor’s house, so that we may hold a junta and form a response.
While there is still some time I would advise that you hide away what you cannot easily carry away with you and then evacuate the town into the backcountry and up the river before these devils enter our town.”
The crowd began to grow loud with panicked chatter.
“Gracias, my brother. There is wisdom in your advice,” said Father Miguel. To the assembly he said, “those of you on the council, go with Señor Perez with peace in your hearts. The rest of us will organize and aid your families as they make ready to get away to safety.”
With that several men rose from their seats and left with Enrique Perez.
The Siren Song launched the longboat under the cover of the smoke still hanging in the air around La Columbe and the—.
“Captain O ‘Malley wishes to come aboard,” Bartolo shouted up to the men at the railings.
“Permission.. granted,” came the reply from Quartermaster Fleurie.
The look of white hot rage in Grace’s face made Mr. Fleurie take a step back as she came over the railing.
“Where is Caseau?”
“Breakfasting in his cabin, Madame.” Fleurie gave a slight apologetic bow.
By the time this answer was given, Bartolo and Quintor had their boots on the deck as well. Wordlessly Bartolo, Quintor, and Fleurie fell in behind Grace as she crossed the deck to the cabin door.
“Why did you open fire rather than meet as agreed down river?” Grace said as she stepped through the door without knocking.
“Because the element of surprise had already been lost. There were several fishing boats in the estuary, fishing by the light of the moon. As soon as they spotted us, they made for shore. I made a decision in the moment on a show of strength rather than stealth.”
“Damn your eyes. Anything and anyone of value is now making for the backcounty.”
“Time is still on our side. If we move swiftly nothing of great value will get far. Sit and have some breakfast.” He looked at the four people standing before him. “Fleurie, go fetch Surcouf and we shall make this an official council of war.”
“Oui. At once,” Fleurie replied and then turned on his heels.
“Please my friends, sit, eat,” Caseau invited again. “We now have an opportunity to take the town without a sacrifice of blood.”
“Surely you jest.” Grace’s tone was incredulous.
“Not at all, dear lady. These colonial outposts are cut off from all support. In the face of such a force arrayed against them, most towns are glad to raise a ransom to protect life and homes. We have conducted several successful raids in this manner.”
Grace eyed Caseau from across the table. She knew he was correct about losing the element of surprise. But she had her doubts about negotiating a ransom without even setting boots in the town.
She took a seat, Bartolo and Quintor following suit. Captain Caseau graciously served his guests himself.
Although they were outwardly quiet, Grace was still seething inside. At every turn it seemed her authority was thwarted by the decisions of others. Her mind reeled. How would the crew take this turn of events?
She looked at Bartolo and Quintor. Bartolo was easy to read after so many years together. His body was tense, but his face was a mask of calm confidence. He didn’t like this situation any more than she did. However, he ate well and seemed willing to accept a change in plans. Quintor was quiet and inscrutable as always. His dark soulful eyes roamed the cabin, as if planning escape routes and identifying possible weapons. He seemed poised to act in an instant if need be.
Fleurie returned with Surcouf to break some of the tension. Unlike Grace and her lieutenants, they seemed relaxed and pleased, as if things were going well. Could she be so far off in her assessment of the situation? Since most of their engagements had been ship to ship for years, Grace had no context for how a coastal raid might play out.
“By now the local governor will have called together his council of merchants and militia to discuss how to deal with the situation.” Caseau began with utter confidence. “In all likelihood, the fort is both poorly manned and poorly supplied. So, blowing this many ships out of the water is not a real possibility for them. Rarely do these towns have any real military men. They have one of two options,” he continued looking directly at Grace, “either flee with what valuables they can carry and allow us to burn the place to the ground, or negotiate a ransom and keep their losses to a minimum.”
“And what if this is one of those rare towns with a military presence?” Grace volleyed.
“Then we may be the ones with choices to make. Either we fight it out in the hope that there is still enough valuables left in the town to make the losses worth the fight, or we withdraw having wasted time and resources on a poor bet. Given the size of the town, no less than five church steeples and a waterfront crowded with warehouses, I do not for a moment think that this place is a poor bet. The people will flee with their personal wealth, but the churches and businesses still offer an opportunity of great gain even for a combined crew as large as ours.”
Grace held Caseau’s gaze for a moment in tense silence before looking to Bartolo and Quintor.
Bartolo laid a comforting hand to Grace’s forearm and said, “While this is not going quite according to plan, when does anything? Our successes have always been measured by the boldness required to see the fight until the end.”
Holding her face steady, Grace wanted to shrivel up inside. Bartolo was right. And when had she become so timid and indecisive? Given a reason to shift her mind from the sneak attack she had been planning, she could already work out several ways to deploy their men to overwhelm the town and the fort.
She drew a deep breath and took the plunge. “Given that we are still very likely to need to attack that fort as well as strategic points within the town, what do you propose we do next?”
“We send a small delegation to meet with the governor to negotiate a ransom for the town,” replied Caseau.
Even though the thundering concussion of canon fire had ceased, people continued to stream into the church for comfort, information, and direction. Within a wink of an eye, Mama Guzman had people organized throughout the church. Those wandering in were given the latest information and lead off to help others to arrange for carts, horses and all means of carrying people and goods away from danger. Father Miguel made a circuit around the building several times to calm panicked mothers, pray with the elderly, and provide blessings of safety to families as they turned to leave.
At one point Mama noticed Father Miguel going round in circles and not talking with anyone. She stepped up to him and said, “Now would be a good time to step away from here and go down to the council meeting.”
Father Miguel gave her an astonished look. “But my place is here,” he replied.
“Your place is wherever cooler heads and better angels are needed. Right now, that’s at the governor’s house. Enrique Perez means well, but he will goad Governor Bosa into a temper and try to negotiate from a position of power that we do not have. Your presence will keep emotions and ego in check.”
Father Miguel opened his mouth to counter, but Mama continued. “Everything is well in hand here, my boy. Despite the chatter, they all know what they need to do and I will see that it’s done. Go.”
“Si, Mama Guzman.” Father Miguel was certain that Mama would wrap his knuckles if he hesitated another moment.
He arrived at the home of Governor Ieronimo Bosa just as he and the other men of the council were leaving.
“Padre, welcome. I had wondered why Señor Perez had not brought you along with the others,” Bosa greeted Father Miguel.
“I wanted to be sure that the rest of my flock were making their way to safety,” he replied.
“Our town is truly blessed to have such a man as you among us. We are heading down to the waterfront to meet a launch from the ships. Please join us.”
While Governor Bosa was certainly pleased to have him join the delegation, Father Miguel could see that Perez and a couple of others were not so eager to include him. However, they remained silent and continued along with the Governor.
Once they passed by the warehouses and could again see the harbor expanding before them, Father Miguel saw one longboat approaching the docks under a white flag. Their attackers had come to talk.
As the boat drew closer, they could see five men aboard. One was in the bow. He had sandy hair, sunburned skin, and was dressed like any common sailor. Two were rowing the boat, a very large and powerfully built man with gleaming skin as dark as night and a wiry dark-haired man that could be a Spaniard. In the stern sat two more men, both lean and lank and dressed in fine coats and plumed hats in the French fashion.
They tied up their boat and approached as a group, the wiry Spaniard in the lead.
“Hola! I am Filipe Gonzalez of the Siren Song,” he began in rapid Spanish. “This is Señor Hawkins and Señor Quintor also of the Siren Song and Señores Fleurie and Surcouf of La Columbe. We are here with a proposal we believe you will find much to your advantage and an invitation to dine aboard La Columbe with our Captains.”
Governor Bosa took a step forward but did not approach or extend a hand in proper greeting. “What do you propose that could be advantageous to us after you have descended on us in the night and opened fire on our homes without provocation?”
Filipe continued to smile as if the Governor had greeted him as an old friend. “For the small price of 50,000 Reales our guns will remain silent and we will not enter the town. We also have two merchant ships with their cargoes to sell. We will make the merchant leaders standing with you a very good deal on the ships and goods they carry, provided that the ransom and the sale are carried out in the next three days.
As an act of good faith, you will be welcomed aboard La Columbe at sunset to discuss our proposal over dinner. You will be free to leave at will and no harm will come to any guest aboard ship.”
Governor Bosa heard the men behind him begin to grumble and gestured to them to hold their peace and step back. “We will consider your proposal and provide an answer at sunset. However, I will decline the kind invitation aboard your ship and request that we meet in the tavern.” He pointed to a small building squeezed between the warehouses a few hundred feet up the waterfront.”
“As you wish, Señor. Until sunset.”
The men of both groups turned on their heels and retreated from whence they came.
Grace paced restlessly back and forth along the port railings of La Columbe. All of the ships in their flotilla were arrayed in blockade at the mouth of the harbor. All guns were silent, and everyone seemed to be holding their collective breath waiting until sunset and word from the Governor of Guayaquil.
“My dear lady,” Captain Caseau said calmly as she passed him, “you will soon wear a hole through the deck. Come and sit a while.”
Grace stopped dead in her tracks and glared at Caseau. “I don’t like this. It feels wrong. Once we opened fire, we should have continued the attack. There is no reason for them to do anything but buy as much time as they can.”
“Well, we shall soon find out if that is the case.” Caseau smiled. “Someone has just launched a fishing boat and is heading this way. They are carrying a white flag.
Grace stepped up to the railing and watched as a single man rowed the small boat toward them. “I don’t like this one bit,” she muttered.
Within minutes the little boat was floating alongside the hull of La Columbe. The man said nothing but waved a scroll of paper above his head. Captain Caseau gave Fleurie a nod and soon one of the crew, a scrawny youngster, was scrambling down a rope ladder to the man below. Quick as a flash the sailor was back up the ladder and handing the note to Caseau.
Caseau skimmed and then translated the message in scrawling Spanish. “His Excellency, Governor Ieronimo Bosa of Guayaquil humbly begs our pardon but they are unable to gather the princely sum of 50,000 Reales and offer instead 30,000 pieces of eight if we will hold our fire and grant them four days to gather it.”